PubWest returned to its roots earlier this month for its annual convention, holding the November 4–6 meeting in Santa Fe, N.Mex., where in 1978 a small group of Rocky Mountain publishers formed plans to create what is the country's largest regional publishing association. Attendance of 210 was up by 10% over 2009, and the show had a healthy vibe. "I sense a more positive attitude toward the future than we had at the show a year ago," noted executive director Kent Watson.
In her opening keynote, Dominique Raccah, publisher and CEO of Sourcebooks, spoke on "Running Two Companies at Once: A Book Publisher in Digital Transformation." "We're facing the hardest upcoming 10 years we've ever seen," Raccah began. "We need to talk to each other and reach out to each other, but even with that, we're going to lose some publishers." In describing the traditional model of book publishing, Raccah said that there have been eight to 15 layers between the author and the reader, including "unreasonable retailer terms and friction in the supply chain" that create an unsustainable, unprofitable situation that calls for a new model. "Book publishing isn't book printing," she continued. "It's taking content and putting it into print, apps, e-books, and Web-based content."
According to Raccah, the new publishing models have created "an explosion in the amount of work we have to do," noting, for example, that e-books have added lots more steps to the publishing process for what can be an uncertain return. The top 10 titles from Sourcebooks are selling 500 copies a month, Raccah reported. "It costs an average of $111 to convert a title," said Raccah, "so do your big books first and wait on the slower-selling ones." As for creating apps, that involves the author, the publisher, and a developer and can cost anywhere from $3,000 to $50,000. "Choose the authors you want to go on the journey with you. You have to pick your battles these days as we take on the job of retooling and expanding on what publishing is," Raccah advised.
Media consultant and CPA Daniel R. Siburg presented the financial/administrative track, focusing on the Huenefeld-PubWest survey of financial operations. Siburg took a tough, practical approach to the realities of the business of publishing today, urging those in the audience to cut costs at every available turn. When he made the point that royalties should now be paid on net rather than list price, panel member Gibbs Smith responded, "With e-books thrown into the mix, I'm not even sure what makes up net these days. That has to be defined."
Siburg was adamant that the price of e-books should be going up rather than down. "If you think that cutting your price will result in more sales in this area, you're heading toward bankruptcy," Siburg continued. "Believe me, your sales won't go up." Addressing the issue of inventory turn, he noted that publishers should be monitoring this issue very closely. "If you're only turning your inventory once a year, then something's wrong. Be aggressive about remaindering titles that aren't moving. Don't fall in love with your inventory; it's just cash, and you should sell it."
There were 33 exhibitors at PubWest this year, primarily from the manufacturing and printing industries. Thomson-Shore's Dave Raymond was pleased with the turnout at the show: "The traffic is good, and the publishers seem more knowledgeable this year. They're feeling the pressure and are taking the time to do their research into manufacturing and production choices." Jonnie Bryant, from McNaughton & Gunn, noted the increase in attendance. "There are new faces on both sides, publishers and exhibitors."
At Friday afternoon's Sales and Marketing Roundtable, moderated by Nolo Press's Jackie Thompson, the liveliest portion of the meeting focused on authors and how to manage their publicity expectations. Kalen Landow of Taylor Trade Publishing complained about an author who contacted several national TV shows directly, thus jeopardizing the publisher's subsequent efforts to secure bookings. "This part of our business has become very challenging in the last year," said a frustrated Landow. "The expectations of many authors are greater than we can execute." BookTour.com's Kevin Smokler echoed this idea. "Authors have to learn that they simply can't waste people's time," he said. "I tell them they have to stick to their niche—if their book is about skiing, focus on publicity opportunities in that particular area, and not on the national shows."
The second keynote speech, "Reinventing Your Company for the Future," was given by Skip Prichard, president and CEO of Ingram Content Group. "The landscape is shifting," he told the audience. "In the next 12 months, 14% of consumers will buy an electronic reading device. We're moving from a bricks-and-mortar to an online sales preference. We have to be prepared for what happens next, and the change has to start with you." Prichard referred to the resulting opportunities as "the main dish" and the accompanying pressure as "the side dish. This means that we have to operate with better, faster, and cheaper work productivity."
"The demise of print is overblown," Prichard continued. "Print and digital will coexist. Still, publishers don't have a fundamental right to survive, and some will fail. Our systems are 20 years out of date, so it's time to buckle up." Prichard's advice? Simplify, connect, and conquer. "Differentiate yourself from the rest. Instead of finding readers for your writers, find writers for your readers. We can't predict the future, but we can create it."
It seemed fitting that in the midst of so much discussion about the digitization of publishing, one of the final PubWest programs was "The Art of the Book." Moderated by Tony Crouch, former director of design and production at the University of California Press, the panel included publisher Gibbs Smith, David Jenney of Rio Nuevo Publishers, and Kristina Kachele, freelance book designer and former art director at the University of New Mexico Press. "The world has gotten bigger, not smaller," said Smith. "You don't have to give anything up in this digital age—you can have the aesthetic of art and craft in any mode. What matters is design." Kachele presented a slide show of images that compared various examples of traditional and digital art book publishing and was judicious in her conclusions. "Technology leads," she said, "and design follows and improves."
The Jack D. Rittenhouse Award, which recognizes individuals who have contributed significantly to the Western community of the book, was given to ABC-CLIO founder Eric H. Boehm at PubWest's closing luncheon. Companion Press's Jane Freeburg said, as the conference wound down, "I consider PubWest a fabulous executive planning retreat. It fosters a great deal of collegiality among the publishers, especially at a time when we depend so much on one another."